Just Who Do You Think You’re Talking To

What’s with the New Yawk accent?” asks Arika Okrent of Mental Floss magazine, referring to the well-known tendency of New Business challengeYorkers to drop their r’s.  In the 1960s, a Columbia University grad student named William Labov, hypothesizing that the missing r might be explained by social factors, tested his theory by visiting luxury department stores and bargain basement shops. The classier the joint, he found, the more likely salespeople were to pronounce the r.

The study was repeated in 1986 by Joy Fowler, finding precisely the same pronunciation difference between high-end and low-end store personnel. That begged the question: if more r means more prestige, why are the r’s dropped at all?

A recent inquiry by Maeve Eberhardt and Corinne Downs found the answer at the famous New York bridal salon Kleinfeld’s (featured on the TV reality show “Say Yes to the Dress”). The researchers discovered that the higher the client’s budget, the more likely the salesperson is to retain the r! However, the salespeople tend to drop the r when providing emotional support!

Now, you wouldn’t drop your r’s in a printed blog, of course, but there are tests you can put your blog through to see how you’re doing in terms of readability – are you reaching the right people and doing it by using words and sentences to which they can relate?  Readability Index Calculators (the most-used is the Flesch-Kincaid) can show where your writing is on the bargain–basement-to-“classy” scale.

As content writers, we try to keep blog content relevant to the topic and up to date with what’s happening in the field and in the news. Going light on jargon and technical terms without “dumbing down” the material shows respect for readers’ intellect – and for their time. But refining the content based on the target audience is the lesson we can take from the New Yawk accent story.

 The idea, of course, is to match your writing to your intended audience. Does the site target a more educated demographic, people with specialized knowledge or expertise in a particular area, or is it meant to cater to a general audience.

A good question for us blog writers to ask ourselves might be “Just who do you think you’re talking to?“

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